SF: Prop H – Setting Clean Energy Deadlines; Studying Options for Providing Energy; Changing Revenue Bond Authority to Pay for Public Utility Facilities

Shall the City: evaluate making the City the primary provider of electric power in San Francisco; consider options to provide energy to San Francisco residents, businesses and City departments; mandate deadlines for the City to meet its energy needs through clean and renewable energy sources; establish a new Office of the Independent Ratepayer Advocate to make recommendations about utility rates to the City’s Public Utilities Commission; and allow the Board of Supervisors to approve the issuance of revenue bonds to pay for any public utility facilities without voter approval?

Basically, Proposition H wants to set up the structure to take over the electric power infrastructure from PG&E with lofty goals of converting 100% to clean and renewable energy sources by 2040.

The exact deadlines are:

  • 107 megawatts of clean energy by 2012
  • 51% of the City’s electricity needs using renewable energy by 2017
  • 75% of the City’s electricity needs using renewable energy by 2030
  • 100% of the City’s electricity needs using renewable energy by 2040

From Wikipedia, renewable energy is energy generated from natural resources such as sunlight, wind, rain, tides, and geothermal heat.

From the census in 2006, there is approximately 357,000 households in San Francisco. Based on an article about renewal energy from a city leading in the field, 1 megawatt can power 750 homes a month. Doing the math, approximately 476 megawatts of electricity will need to be generated to cover the residents of San Francisco each month. This does not take into account commercial and government buildings nor government services like MUNI or the Cable Car system.

There was a study conducted by an independent research group on the feasibility of using tidal energy under the Golden Gate Bridge. Initially, the reports indicated a possibility of 1000 megawatts from the tides, but a more thorough study showed only 237 megawatts. Only 35 (26,250 homes) of which can be safely used without harming the ecosystem. The cost of actually putting a turbine into the water and creating the system to feed electricity into the City will cost millions for just 0.07% of the total electricity needed.

Supporters also point to the Hetch Hetchy dam which generates enough energy to power 170,000 homes (227 megawatts). Unfortunately, the City may not have the chance to use the dam in the future. With the improvements to the City’s water system, there is considerable pressure to divert away from the Hetch Hetchy and draw the City’s power from the Tuolumne River. With the loss of the dam, the amount of hydroelectricity produced will decrease 20 to 40%.

Another thing to take into account is that currently less than half of the current electricity generated by the Hetch Hetchy dam is used by the City to power MUNI and government buildings. The excess energy is sold off to other districts. Lets say it takes 100 megawatts of power, then after a average 30% decrease in total megawatts, only 58 megawatts would be available for residential homes. This would cover 43,500 homes.

Meeting the first deadline is feasible by just buying out the electric power infrastructure from PG&E and not changing a thing. Unfortunately, the cost of such a venture will likely number in the billions since PG&E isn’t going to give it away for pennies on the dollar.

Meeting the next deadline will be much more difficult. The tidal power and hydro water is tapped out at 193 megawatts to power 69,750 homes, MUNI, and various public buildings. The city will need to figure out a way to generate another 50 megawatts. We could plaster solar panels on the rooftops of every commercial and residential home; we could collect the methane from our landfills much like San Diego to generate power; or we could purchase power from companies selling renewable energy.

To meet the third and fourth deadlines, we better hope the technology improves by leaps and bounds in order to squeeze out as much power as possible. Otherwise, the City would be forced to pay more to acquire more energy.

It is a lose-lose situation. On one hand, you want to rid the dependency on fossil fuels to improve the environment and own the infrastructure to provide the City citizens with cheap energy. On the other hand, its going to take a large amount of capital to start the venture and the same type of management that handles MUNI will be handling your electricity.

We haven’t even gotten into the small matter of allowing the Board of Supervisors the ability to create revenue bonds to fund the project without voters’ approval. Revenue bonds are sold to investors and they receive their return once the project is generating revenue. So, in essence, the future residents of the City will be paying for the project in electricity rates. That will be about 15-20 years down the line.

I want to say yes to Proposition H but I am going to go no because PG&E already has the infrastructure and the know-how to run an electric company. They already do a decent job and they footed their own study to look into tidal wave energy. This shows a company looking to expand into renewable sources of energy. I like to give them that chance.

This doesn’t mean the City can’t look into generating their own energy. Any energy created could be sold to other districts to offset the costs the City pays for its own energy.

One thought on “SF: Prop H – Setting Clean Energy Deadlines; Studying Options for Providing Energy; Changing Revenue Bond Authority to Pay for Public Utility Facilities

  1. Pingback: Fall 2008 Election Results | Frobie

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